Today’s theme has of course been made infamous in cinema. Films like The Omen and the Damian series portrays the antichrist since 666 is deeply ingrained on top of his head. Yet, the word antichrist does not appear in The Book of Revelation. It is mentioned in I John 2:18, “Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.” Also in II John 7: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.” There have been many apparent antichrists in Christendom, especially the Emperor Nero who John is writing about in Revelation. Essentially, Chapter 13 presents an “earthly” rather than heavenly struggle as in Chapter 12, in which the work of the serpent is carried out by his two lieutenants, the beast from the sea and the beast from the land.
The Beast from the Sea, 13:1-10
Rev 13:1 Then I saw a beast emerge from the sea: it had seven heads and ten horns, with a coronet on each of its ten horns, and its heads were marked with blasphemous titles.
Rev 13:2 I saw that the beast was like a leopard, with paws like a bear and a mouth like a lion; the [serpent] had handed over to it his own power and his throne and his immense authority.
Rev 13:3 I saw that one of its heads seemed to have had a fatal wound but that this deadly injury had healed and the whole world had marvelled and followed the beast.
Rev 13:4 They prostrated themselves in front of the [serpent] because he had given the beast his authority; and they prostrated themselves in front of the beast, saying, ‘Who can compare with the beast? Who can fight against it?’
Rev 13:5 The beast was allowed to mouth its boasts and blasphemies and to be active for forty-two months;
Rev 13:6 and it mouthed its blasphemies against God, against his name, his heavenly Tent and all those who are sheltered there.
Rev 13:7 It was allowed to make war against the saints and conquer them, and given power over every race, people, language and nation;
Rev 13:8 and all people of the world will worship it, that is, everybody whose name has not been written down since the foundation of the world in the sacrificial Lamb’s book of life.
Rev 13:9 Let anyone who can hear, listen:
Rev 13:10 Those for captivity to captivity; those for death by the sword to death by the sword. This is why the saints must have perseverance and faith.
Leviathan, the mythological sea monster, has provided the imagery for both the dragon and the beast. John has also borrowed his description of the beast from the sea from Daniel 7. In Daniel’s vision, four separate beasts—like a lion, a bear, a leopard, and one with ten horns—come up from the great sea. John has modified the Danielic vision and combined all the characteristics of all four creatures into one terrifying beast from the deep. This beast from the sea is presented as a parody of God and Christ. The beast supposedly is divine; in reality, he is a pawn of Satan. The only power and authority the beast has is that which comes from Satan. (Smyth Helwys Bible Commentary)
One salient characteristic here is the use of power. The beast receives a mortal head wound in one of its seven heads, but the wound is later healed, to the awestruck amazement of the people of the world. They later fall down and worship the beast, believing that it has the power of healing wounds. Yea, the age-old problem of assigning praise and total obeisance to an evil force just because it manifests many powers and abilities. Ergo, they sold-out their souls to the beast.
The Beast from the Earth, 13:11-18
Rev 13:11 Then I saw a second beast, emerging from the ground; it had two horns like a lamb, but made a noise like a dragon.
Rev 13:12 This second beast exercised all the power of the first beast, on its behalf making the world and all its people worship the first beast, whose deadly injury had healed.
Rev 13:13 And it worked great miracles, even to calling down fire from heaven onto the earth while people watched.
Rev 13:14 Through the miracles which it was allowed to do on behalf of the first beast, it was able to lead astray the people of the world and persuade them to put up a statue in honour of the beast that had been wounded by the sword and still lived.
Rev 13:15 It was allowed to breathe life into this statue, so that the statue of the beast was able to speak, and to have anyone who refused to worship the statue of the beast put to death.
Rev 13:16 It compelled everyone — small and great alike, rich and poor, slave and citizen — to be branded on the right hand or on the forehead,
Rev 13:17 and made it illegal for anyone to buy or sell anything unless he had been branded with the name of the beast or with the number of its name.
Rev 13:18 There is need for shrewdness here: anyone clever may interpret the number of the beast: it is the number of a human being, the number 666.
The first beast is an adaptation of the ancient mythological sea monster Leviathan, the second beast is modeled after another primeval monster—Behemoth, the monster on the land. In Jewish legend, Leviathan and Behemoth were primordial monsters who would be killed in the end time when the messiah comes. Their carcasses would be food for the people left on the earth. The role of the second beast is to exercise the authority of the first beast and to enforce worship of the first beast. (ibid)
Now we come to the crux of today’s issue: Who does 666 stand for? For John it was the Emperor Nero. When the Greek words for Caesar Nero are transliterated into Hebrew letters their numerical value is 666.
Commentators have also suggested another symbolic meaning for 666. Since seven is considered the number for perfection or completeness, six would represent incompleteness, imperfection, or even evil, since it is one less than seven. Accordingly, 666 would be triple evil, a fitting symbolic number for the beast that is the puppet of Satan. Somewhat along these same lines, Beasley-Murray pointed out that in Sibylline Oracles 1.324-29, the numerical value of the name of Christ in Greek is recognized as 888. The 666 of the beast could then be seen as an intentional contrast to the number of Christ. (ibid)
But we know, of course, that the association just doesn’t end there. The number 666 was self-assigned by Aleister Crowley, the occultist-magician from the last century—he came to be known as “the Beast”. In whatever shape or fashion, the assignment of 666 has superseded this small passage in the Book of Revelation—another indication that many of these varied themes throughout Revelation have been oftentimes used and abused. One thing is clear, though, as the text classifies it as “a person”. Hence, 666 is not regulated to Satan or any other supernatural entity. It is human-based, and as stated earlier there are many antichrists who have self-condemned themselves and others to its evil fold. Satanists, too, have adapted it for their own nefarious purposes. Finally, as long as there is an active imagination at work, 666 will continue to live on in decadent minds.
This concludes our series on Exploring the Book of Revelation. We have covered the majority of themes that Revelation revealed. The remainder is embellishments upon these themes, concluding with the final victory over the beasts by Christ. Elaine Pagels, in her work, Revelations: Vision, Prophecy & Politics in the Book of Revelation, provides an excellent final summary.
As cosmic war intensifies, John sees seven angels standing in heaven and watches as each, in turn, pours out upon the earth a golden bowl filled with God’s wrath. The horror intensifies as the sixth angel pours his bowl on the river Euphrates, near Babylon—and the “spirits of demons” summon all the leaders of the nations “to gather them for battle on the great day of God Almighty,” preparing for the terrible battle at Armageddon, the plain at the foot of Mount Carmel in present-day Israel. As the seventh angel pours his bowl into the air, thundering bursts of lightning precede the most violent earthquake the world has ever known, and the city of Babylon falls, its people cursing God as they die in agony. Now John sees a vision of Babylon as the prophet Isaiah had pictured Israel’s ancient enemy Tyre—in the form of a great whore, brilliantly dressed, adorned with jewels, sitting on a scarlet beast with seven heads, drinking the blood of God’s people from a golden cup. When the battle reaches its climax, Jesus appears as a divine warrior, mounted on a white horse as he rides forth from heaven to lead armies of angels into war:
From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty … [and his name is] “King of kings, and Lord of lords.”
An angel shouts, announcing that God invites all vultures to come after the battle to a hideous feast, to “eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of the mighty, the flesh of the horses and their riders—flesh of all, both free and slave, small and great.” The forces join in battle and Satan is thrown into a pit, the dragon chained, the beasts thrown into a lake of fire—while all human beings who had died faithful to God come back to life and reign over the earth for a thousand years. Then Jesus judges the whole world, and all who have worshipped other gods or committed murder, magic, or illicit sexual acts are thrown down to be tormented forever in a lake of fire, while God’s faithful are invited to enter a new city of Jerusalem that descends from heaven and where Christ and his people reign in triumph for a thousand years.